The moments leading up to a major event can be terrifying — for you and your team. Just before an important sales pitch, presentation or other high-stakes situation, you can hear your heart pounding in your ears. You take a few deep breaths because you know this meeting can be a game-changer. You don’t want to blow it.
We’ve all experienced it — that anxious moment just before a crucial meeting we know has the power to change everything. The cruel irony, of course, is that right when we need to feel our best, we often feel our worst. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Research shows there are things we can do to pump ourselves up in the moment we need it most to deliver a killer performance.
Daniel McGinn is a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review and author of Psyched Up: How The Science Of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. Daniel spent years researching and interviewing top-performing athletes, soldiers, comedians and entertainers on the tactics and techniques they use to ace make-it-or-break-it moments. He recently shared with me what science says about motivating yourself and your team to deliver a stellar performance.
Start with a plan
The biggest mistake people make before entering a high-stakes encounter is not having a plan, Daniel says.
“If we think about what an athlete does before performing – whether it’s a professional football player or an Olympic athlete – chances are they have some sort of a plan before the game,” Daniel tells me. “Not only are they stretching their muscles, they’re focusing on certain thoughts and actions. They have a pre-performance ritual.”
This is how top-performing athletes psych themselves up before a big game. Whether it’s listening to music visualizing their moves, they’ve trained their minds to focus on something other than the butterflies in their stomach. When they’re consistent with those pre-performance rituals, they perform better. Likewise, sales managers who create rituals with their teams before every meetings stand a better chance of delivering in high-stakes situations.
“(Research shows) people who do the same thing every time before they perform — whether it’s kicking a soccer goal, or shooting a dart, or some kind of a mental performance activity — people who have a set of rituals they do before performing, generally do better,” he says.
Think good thoughts
While it may sound warm and fuzzy, research shows that thinking positive thoughts is beneficial to performance. Visualizing the moments you knocked it out of the park, almost as if you were watching a highlight reel of your life and career, can positively affect your outcome.
“If I were a salesperson, and I were about to call on the client that’s going to make or break this quarter for me, I would think back very specifically – as vividly as I can, almost like you’re watching a highlight film on ESPN – about the time when you just crushed that sales call,” Daniel says.
Thinking of all the ways a sales meeting could go sideways is likely to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, research shows.
“Thinking about what you want to do, as opposed to what you don’t want to do, is going to generally lead to better outcomes,” Daniel says.
Reframe the experience
Not only is it good to think good thoughts, it’s good to reframe the experience as good. Instead of thinking how nervous you feel, reframe the sensation to, say, excitement. It’s always better to frame things in the positive. In talking with many public speakers, for instance, Daniel says the successful ones saw the glass as half full.
“Instead of looking at an event where they need to perform as a burden or a risk or a task, which they might fail at, they really embrace it as an opportunity,” Daniel said of the speaker he spoke to. “They look at the upside and they do just sort of naturally think about it as an exciting thing as opposed to a nervous-making thing.”
This is something you can do with your team. Find ways to reframe the moment as positive, not do-or-die.
It’s Your Turn
How do you psyche yourself up before an important meeting? How do you pump your team up before a major event? Share your thoughts on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the comments.